Insectary Plants to Enhance Beneficial Insects: Expanding the Palette to Increase Options for Sustainable Crop Production in the NC Region

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2014: $199,887.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2018
Grant Recipient: Michigan State University
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Douglas Landis
Michigan State University

Annual Reports

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: pollinator habitat
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement
  • Pest Management: biological control
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Sustainable Communities: public participation

    Proposal abstract:

    Most beneficial insects (predators, parasitoids, and pollinators) require regular access to pollen and nectar to enhance longevity, reproduction, and fuel their pest control and pollination activities. However, agricultural landscapes in many parts of the North-Central Region no longer contain a reliable diversity of floral resources. In previous NC SARE-funded research we screened native plants for their ability to act as “insectary plants” i.e. to attract and support natural enemies and pollinators, and information on the most attractive plants has been widely disseminated. That research-based list has informed USDA NRCS, Xerces Society, and University Extension programs promoting insectary plant habitats. Most of the plants we previously identified are best suited for medium to fine-textured soils with good water holding capacity. Our current project, proposes targeted research to identify insectary plants that thrive on coarse-textured, droughty soils. This is particularly important for fruit and vegetable producers who obtain critical pollination services from commercial beekeepers. After pollination, many beekeepers move hives to bee yards located near stands of spotted knapweed, an invasive plant that can dominate plant communities on coarse-textured soils. Although beekeepers like spotted knapweed because of its high nectar quantity, natural areas land managers actively control this exotic species, setting up a conflict between agricultural and environmental interests. Our research and education project seeks a win-win situation where native insectary plants supplement spotted knapweed, addressing agriculture’s need for pollinator- and natural enemy-supportive farm landscapes while contributing to native habitat restoration. We propose to work with native plant producers to select and screen ca. 60 species of flowering plants adapted for growth on dry soils. We will collaborate with USDA NRCS, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, extension educators, land conservancies, commercial beekeepers, and state and federal agencies to encourage the use of appropriate mixtures of these plants for various applications. Our learning outcomes include improved knowledge and confidence by educators and land managers to recommend research-proven insectary plants. Actions resulting from these learning outcomes will include increased sales of native plants and an increased number of acres planted to insectary habitats. Finally, by sharing our information with regional stakeholders we will contribute to system changes that will enhance profitability and the quality of life for farmers throughout the North-Central Region.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Key stakeholders in this project include; fruit and vegetable farmers, extension educators, native plant producers, land conservancies, state and federal agency personnel, commercial pollination suppliers, and beekeepers of all sizes. Key learning outcomes include:



      1. Improved stakeholder knowledge of which insectary plants best support pest-controlling and pollinating insects, especially for use in dry soils.


      1. Increased access to “best practices” for establishing and maintaining insectary habitats through peer-reviewed research publications, an extension bulletin, annual demonstration field-days at multiple locations, webinars, and website development.


      1. Improved understanding of the benefits of multi-floral resources for beneficial insects.


      1. Enhanced land manager skills in utilizing insectary plants to support arthropod-mediated ecosystem services in farmland.



    Actions resulting from these learning outcomes include;



      1. Native plant producers selling and supplying more of the plants that support beneficial insects, and communicating this research-driven knowledge to their clients.


      1. Greater adoption of practices aimed at increasing native plant diversity and ecosystem services by farmers, state and federal land managers, and land conservancies.


      1. Increased beekeeper support for managing bee yards and surrounding landscapes for pollinator health.


      1. Landscape-scale enhancement of pollinator and natural enemy habitat as the research results are disseminated and adopted.




    This project will advance our long-term effort to conduct research and inform stakeholders about the need for managing agricultural landscapes to provide resources for natural enemies and pollinators. The current pollinator crisis which has captured the public’s imagination provides an opportunity to take this message directly to a wide range of stakeholders and implement win-win solutions that can jointly address both agricultural and environmental interests. As such, our project is directly relevant to improving profitability for farmers of pollination-dependent fruit and vegetable crops and their pollination service providers, for sustaining and improving overall environmental quality and natural resources to which agriculture depends, and for enhancing the quality of life for farmers, ranchers, communities and society as a whole in the North Central Region.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.